REPORT cards showing how well nurses are looking after patients are to be displayed outside hospital wards across Scotland.

The performance charts will include information about staffing levels, revealing whether patients feel the staff have enough time to care for them.

Chief nursing officer Professor Fiona McQueen is introducing the measure as a way of providing assurance that “every patient is provided with excellence in care”.

Staff bodies are supporting the move - although trade union Unison warned collecting all the information could take time away from looking after patients.

Last year an official survey found two-thirds of NHS Scotland staff feel they cannot do their job properly because of staffing shortages.

Explaining her thinking behind the report card plan, Professor McQueen said: “As Chief Nursing Officer in Scotland how can I be assured that quality of care in hospitals is of the standard it should be? And how do NHS boards assure themselves of the nursing care patients are receiving?”

Many hospital wards already display some information about their performance, such as incidence rates for pressure sores and healthcare infections such as clostridium difficile.

Other topics which could be included are the number of patient falls and complaints. Professor McQueen said it was important not to “over measure," continuing: “There is some research that suggests that asking nurses if they have enough time to care for their patients or not and asking patients if nurses have enough time to care for them are two of the best indicators you can have.”

She wants a measure such as this, which the public can easily understand, to be included in the performance information displayed. It is anticipated that patients will be asked their views using some kind of electronic system, possibly via hospital TV.

Professor McQueen said: “I think we have to be careful that we do not put in a big clunky system patients cannot be bothered with or where people feel obliged to say yes.

“The test is how do we get to the truth?”

She said a number of health boards such as Ayrshire and Arran and Lanarkshire and Greater Glasgow and Clyde are already testing a new performance data system – although the idea of a bedside questionnaire has not been tried yet.

The intention is for the report cards to be uniform across Scotland to allow easy comparisons.

Professor McQueen acknowledged that when hospitals are particularly busy ratings could go down, potentially demoralising staff who were working extra hard.

“I think the deal is that as CNO and board nurse directors we need to support nurses so that there are enough staff to care for patients,” she said. “Where we have measures already... actually the senior charge nurses are very proud to display that data. It needs to be about data for improvement rather than judgement.”

Professor McQueen, who became acting CNO last year and was appointed to the post permanently in March, added that when wards were under pressure the challenge for managers and senior clinicians was to find solutions. “Sometimes I think we are too understanding about the fact there are pressures in our system,” she said. “We have senior managers and senior leaders whose job it is to run our services.”

Theresa Fyffe, director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “We fully support the introduction of an effective, evidence-based assurance system in Scotland and have been arguing for it for some time.

“Patients and the public must be confident that there are enough appropriately qualified nurses to provide safe and effective care in our hospitals and across our communities. A ‘dashboard’ to measure certain quality indicators, driven by outcomes and patient experience, would allow that to happen.

“But for such a system to benefit all patients it must be adopted nationally and have the backing of all key stakeholders."

Danny Phillips, of Unison Scotland, said members were not against the idea. He said: "We know first hand that giving patients more information about their care has a positive effect on their health and wellbeing. As long as it is information that is useful and meaningful to patients. Having said that people should bear in mind that this is another daily task, for NHS staff, that involves precious time collecting and updating data rather than providing hands on care for patients."